Two heavyweights of endurance racing will go head-to-head at Pukekohe Park this weekend, with the 2017 ENEOS North Island Endurance Series reaching its climax.
Auckland based outfits Smeg Racing and Trass Family Motorsport lead the Three Hour series on equal points. Each has one win apiece after the two rounds at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo and Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in the North Waikato.
It’s a simple equation for the two teams, just finish ahead of their nearest rival. However, this year’s season has shown that’s easier said than done.
Strategy gambles went either way in the two rounds, with Smeg Racing’s Simon Evans and Gene Rollinson narrowly beating Dan Gaunt and Sam Fillmore at round one. Round two was a different story with Fillmore, this time joined by Danny Stutterd, prevailing over the Audi in a race dominated by tyre strategy.
Unsurprisingly, with the score even both teams believe they have what it takes to come out on top at the end of three hours.
“I think we’re still probably with the quicker car, the race just didn’t fall our way at Hampton Downs,” Evans said.
“We’re confident in the team and the car. We haven’t run the car at Pukekohe yet so we’ll need to get it sorted for the bumps and we’ll be tickety-boo.”
Having won the opening round in Taupo the team were stifled by changeable conditions and tyre choice, which put them on the back foot. Evans’ teammate Rollinson had led much of the early running only for their strategy to fall off towards the end of the race.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t have quite the right strategy,” Rollinson said.
“It’s pretty hard with the weather, just trying to guess what it’s going to do. But that’s what endurance racing is all about.”
It’s likely they’ll have to deal with strategy gambles again this weekend, with rain forecast for Saturday afternoon’s race.
While Evans and Rollinson head into the final off the back of a second place finished, Trass Family Motorsport’s Sam Fillmore and Australian Danny Stutterd come to Pukekohe the most recent winners.
Equal series leader Sam Fillmore said he’s prepared for a tough task at the South Auckland circuit. Navigating traffic and ensuring they’re at the finish is the goal.
“It’s Pukekohe—it’s a pretty brutal track, it takes no prisoners, if you get it wrong you’ll put it in the fence,” Fillmore said.
“It’s all about being sensible in the wet because I think it could be carnage to be honest. We all need to keep our heads screwed on and make sure we make it through the race.
“It’s going to be a war of attrition, but in that final hour if we’re all still there it’ll be game on and pedal to the metal.”
Having completed one round each, Gaunt and Stutterd are ineligible to win the title on points. Stutterd said that won’t stop him from pushing come Saturday, but he knows it’ll be tough.
“We really feel that in a three-hour race as anyone knows anything can happen,” Stutterd said.
“It’s exciting. It’s a toss of the coin. There’s no doubt the Smeg Racing Audi is a very fast car and they’re very good drivers, it’s just a matter of doing the best job we can and hanging onto that lead lap.”
Ultimately, finishing will have to their focus. There are still several drivers mathematically in with a shot of winning, including GT B competitors Nick Chester and Cameron Jones, as well as Lance Hughes.
Round three of the ENEOS North Island Endurance Series takes place at Pukekohe Park 22 July. Action begin at 9:30 am on Saturday morning with the first qualifying session, before the One Hour race kicks off at 11:00 am.
For more information visit the North Island Endurance Series Facebook page.